One month after a US military strike against Syria seemed inevitable, the September 26 United Nations Security Council agreement to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal has opened a new window for international diplomacy. On October 3, the Atlantic Council convened a distinguished panel to discuss prospects for a political settlement to Syria’s seemingly intractable civil war. Moderated by the Atlantic Council’s Executive Vice President Damon Wilson, the discussion explored the viewpoints of the United States, Russia, and the United Kingdom—three pivotal actors in the second round of anticipated peace talks in Geneva.
Frederic C. Hof, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, began by outlining the current state of the Syrian conflict, which has claimed upwards of 115,000 lives. Ambassador Hof stressed that the Assad regime’s ongoing targeting of residential neighborhoods serves no practical military purpose and its cessation should be a precondition for Geneva II. HE Igor Ivanov, former Russian foreign minister (1999-2004), agreed broadly with Ambassador Hof’s depiction of the violence in Syria, dissenting only with respect to the regime’s culpability for chemical attacks. The United States and Russia share a similar diagnosis of the current situation, Mr. Ivanov asserted, but the difference lies in their prognosis. The Right Honorable Lord George Robertson of Port Ellen, former UK minister of defense (1997-99) and NATO secretary general (1999-2004), argued that inaction in Syria undermines the Responsibility to Protect doctrine, and it would serve the international community well to revisit the lessons from Bosnia, where the United States, the European Union, and Russia collaborated to resolve a similarly horrific sectarian conflict.